ACOH2023 Symposium – Building a Resilient and Supportive Workplace: Strategies for Prioritizing Mental Health

The Academy of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Malaysia organised the Symposium “Building a Resilient and Supportive Workplace: Strategies for Prioritizing Mental Health” on the first day of the 23rd Asian Congress on Occupational Health 2023. The ACOH2023 was held at the EXCO Daegu, Korea from 22-25 November 2023. The theme for the conference was “Healthy Work, Worthy Worker: From Basic Rights to the Sustainable Future”. The seminar was an effort by the AOEMM to highlight the works of its members in addressing mental health in the workplace. The session was chaired by Dr Abed Onn, Occupational Health Physician and Vice-President of AOEMM.

The speakers in the symposium shared their experiences on assessing and manging mental health in their workplaces. All the speakers are members of the AOEMM.

Professor Dr Retneswari Masilamani from the Department of Population Medicine, M. Kandiah Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman presented the paper on “Occupational Stress Assessment: Are we doing it right?” She shared her experience in conducting stress related research and the different methods she has used to assess stress, from questionnaire to assessing cortisol levels. She also highlighted the limitations of each method.

Dr Edwin Ho the Vice President Health and Wellbeing, Asia Pacific, BP, which is based in Singapore presented his paper on “Psychological safety, a core element in the workplace culture”. He started off his presentation with the quote “If you change the nature and quality of the conversations in your team, your outcomes will improve exponentially”. He shared his journey on how to achieve psychology safety in his organization, start with understanding the importance of it, knowing how to build psychological safety, creating the right culture and building a resilient and supportive workplace through psychological safety.

Dr Jaseema Begum an MPH and DrPH alumni from Universiti Malaya and who is now the working with PETRONAS Malaysia presented the paper on “Mental well-being in the workplace for a sustainable future”. She shared the effort of PETRONAS to improve mental well-being in the company. The commitment to improve mental well-being is supported by the management and commitment of leaders with active participation by employees across PETRONAS. She highlighted the roles and responsibilities at each level and the efforts implemented at those levels.

Dr Sathya Subramaniam the Regional Occupational Health Physician from GSK Malaysia presented his paper on “The GSK Mental Health Journey”. He shared the principles that his company follows in relation to improving mental health and the focus of the company, which is on the health and wellbeing of the workers. He highlighted the various effort the company has made to achieve the goals. This included On-demand myWellbeing modules and sessions to help their employees manages and maximise their energy and resilience; Mindfulness available live and on-demand, Mental Health Matters training to help support their employees’ mental health; expert support and counselling from Employee Assistance Programme; the Occupational Health team to support with illness and injuries at work and any concerns about health at work; manager support at work, and health screenings through their Partnership for Prevention programme and medical plan.

Professor Dr Victor Hoe presented his paper on “Mental Health: taking care of the caring profession”. The paper highlights the mental health challenges faced by healthcare workers (HCWs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes anxiety, fear, misinformation, social isolation, burnout, depression, emotional distress, post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), and moral distress. It showcases the UMMC’s response to these challenges by detailing the measures implemented to support HCWs’ well-being. These measures included establishing a risk assessment team, a psychosocial telephone helpline, childcare facilities, designated accommodations, effective communication channels, and HCW-friendly work schedules. The presentation aims to provide strategies and a framework for managing mental health issues in hospital settings during future pandemics, underlining the importance of a resilient management team and experts in occupational and public health.

In conclusion, the symposium sessions highlighted the importance of mental health at work and provided some measure that could be taken by employers to manage and improve mental health at the workplace.